Reflection: Learning About Learning

A key practice of both Dialogue Education is reflection. This week, I’m asking: Just how important is reflection to learning, development and performance?

Why do I ask this? THE PRAGMATIC: I am interested in continuing to deepen learning so that is meaningfully retained, and transferred, in other words people DO something different because he/she sees the value in this, after the course, workshop, etc. Or if he/she decides not to do something differently, he/she is cognizant of the implications and reasons for their decision.

In the article, “Learning about Learning enhances performance” in the Spring 2001, No. 13 “NSIN [National School Improvement Network] Research Matters” published by Institute of Education, University of London. The authors examined about 100 research studies about young persons and the importance of meta-cognition: reflecting on how and why one learns. Again and again, the data showed that effective inclusion of learning about learning increased:

  • Performance
  • Learners’ perceptions of themselves as active agents (as opposed to learned-helplessness), and,
  • The ability to effectively learn in a range of situations.

The studies also indicated that dialogue among learners, including creating their own reflective questions, was important. The meta-learning cycle diagram found in the above referenced document does an excellent job of depicting the integration of learning about learning in addition to the topic at hand. In fact, regardless of our progress in learning the topic, the more astute we are about how we learn best, what we have learned so far, and why, the more effective our future learning about the topic at hand and other topics. “Again, asking oneself a sequence of meaningful and thought-provoking questions improves engagement and understanding: when this practice is incorporated into peer tutoring, one asks and the other explains. The ability to construct knowledge in science improved, both during the tutorial and on written measures.” (p5).

Despite the emphasis on meta-cognition in this article, and the positive indications of the research, “…an explicit focus on learning is an infrequent experience at any stage of education, and many learners show signs that they have little understanding of their own learning processes.” This statement implies that many adults may be unaware of their approach to learning and therefore may have not developed all of the reflective capacities needed for more effective learning and living.

What are your thoughts or findings?


This blog post is written by Joan Dempsey.